KIRKSVILLE — Democratic presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg’s Missouri campaign team gathered about a dozen Kirksville area residents over complimentary onion rings Wednesday evening to discuss rural health care and other issues important to the state’s rural voters.

Bloomberg is a 77-year-old billionaire CEO of Bloomberg L.P. and former New York City mayor who entered the Democratic presidential contest in November. He is attempting a unique strategy that cuts out much of the traditional groundwork in the first four nominating states to focus on the 15 delegate-rich elections scheduled for March 3.

Missouri and five other states will vote March 10.

Bloomberg is self-funding a national advertising campaign targeting President Donald Trump and largely ignoring his Democratic rivals before the field narrows in the early contests.

The race kicks off in earnest Monday when Iowa holds its caucuses.

The Kirksville event was led by field organizers Jonah Munze and Tyler Tran, who began the event by saying that Bloomberg can bring together the largest coalition of voters, from the Wall Street business community to the heartland’s underemployed workers. The open discussion centered around issues like access to affordable medications, supporting locally based health care and the aging rural workforce.

Attendants asked how Bloomberg would lower health care costs while also supporting rural hospitals facing financial obstacles. Munze and Tran said Bloomberg would expand access to Medicaid, providing more payments to those hospitals.

Other support for rural providers includes an annual payment to rural hospitals for each enrolled patient, Amanda Galloway, the campaign’s Missouri director of communications, stated in an email.

“If rural hospitals don't have the patient volume to maintain all aspects of a traditional hospital, Mike will allow them to transform into freestanding emergency departments or physicians clinics while maintaining enhanced reimbursements from Medicare,” Galloway wrote. “These types of reforms will preserve access to health care services in rural America.”

Bloomberg also wants to create a public health insurance option similar to Medicare, focused on the uninsured and low-income residents of states like Missouri that did not expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, his campaign website states.

He has also proposed limiting drug patents so other companies can offer generic medications sooner and capping drug prices at 120% of the average price in other advanced nations. Bloomberg is also proposing a cap on out-of-pocket drug spending for Medicare beneficiaries at $2,000 annually.

Tran said Bloomberg would address the aging rural workforce by introducing more job training programs to help unemployed or underemployed workers fill the changing needs of local communities.

Daniel Mandell, a history professor at Truman State University, said it he appreciated hearing the concerns of fellow community members. “I came here to hear that, because I was pretty sure these folks would have all the answers, but I wanted to hear the people’s questions.”

Inn owner Craig Shorten said he was glad to see area residents come together for a healthy discussion and for Bloomberg’s team to help make Missouri issues a part of the national conversation.

“It’s nice to see people participate, and that’s what it’s all about, get some knowledge and participate.” he said. “We’ve got to step up and do it.”